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Chances are, you take note when Intel and AMD release new CPUs, and when NVIDIA and AMD release new GPUs. Processors and graphics cards are exciting topics, and every year seems to bring significant increases in power. Memory isn’t quite so sexy, though, and most people are likely unaware that there’s a new version of RAM coming — DDR5 — that promises equally important increases in performance.

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System Memory Basics

RAM, or Random-Access Memory, is where data is stored in the short term and while the PC is turned on. The information that the CPU needs to do its job is stored in RAM, either as it’s generated by the CPU or pulled as needed from long-term storage like spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SSDs).

Measured in frequency, memory speed is important because it helps determine how quickly the CPU can perform. A fast CPU can be brought to its knees by slow memory, sitting around waiting for information rather than working to keep the PC running at full tilt.

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What does DDR mean?

DDR stands for Double Data Rate, which just as it sounds means the memory can move data at twice the rate of single data rate memory. DDR has been the standard for several generations now, with DDR4 being DDR5’s natural predecessor. The memory’s full name is DDR SDRAM, where SDRAM stands for Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory.

What’s new with DDR5?

DDR5 brings several improvements over DDR4. The first and most dramatic is performance.

Every generation of DDR memory had a speed at launch that steadily increased as manufacturers made improvements to the architecture. DDR4, for example, started out operating at a frequency of 1,600 megahertz (MHz), or more precisely 800 MHz at a double data rate. This was referred to as DDR-1600. DDR4 has maxed out at 3,200 MHz with DDR4-3200.

DDR5 will start at a range of 4,800 MHz to 5,600 MHz and be designated as DDR5-4800 SDRAM. That’s an improvement of 1.8 times over DDR4. DDR 5 will also increase in speed over time, providing significantly faster raw performance than DDR4. Already, clock speeds of 6,400 MHz are in the works.

The next major improvement is that DDR5 will use less power than DDR4. Specifically, DDR4 draws 1.2 volts while DDR5 will draw 1.1 volts. That doesn’t sound like a significant difference, but it’s considered a very meaningful reduction (20%) in power requirements.

DDR5 will also be available in larger capacities, from 8 gigabit (GB) modules up to 32 GB. That’s double the capacities of DDR4, which range from 4Gb to 16Gb. These modules determine the size of the RAM chips that are installed in a PC, meaning that DDR5 represents a doubling of memory capacity. Up to 128 GB DDR5 RAM chips could make their way to market, enabling massive amounts of memory compared to contemporary PCs.

Finally, desktop DDR5 RAM will include some error-correcting code (ECC) on-chip, a feature previously reserved for server memory. That will improve the memory’s reliability by reducing errors and improving the reliability of applications by up to 20 times compared to DDR4.

Those are the easy-to-explain improvements that DDR5 will bring over DDR4, and there are more complex improvements as well. Those are outside the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that DDR5 will represent more than a single generation’s improvement over DDR4.

When will DDR5 be available in PCs?

The DDR5 standard was published by the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association in July, 2020. RAM maker SK Hynix has produced the first DDR5 modules, 64GB pieces that are aimed at data centers. PCs are expected to start supporting DDR5 RAM sometime in 2021, with 10% of all RAM being DDR5 in 2022. By 2024, 43% of PCs will use DDR5 RAM.

The timing couldn’t be better. Today’s CPUs, particularly AMD’s latest chips, will benefit tremendously from the faster performance that DDR5 will achieve.

Conclusion

DDR5 represents a tremendous advance in PC memory, and will bring with it some serious performance improvements that will impact intense processes like video editing and encoding, computer-aided design, scientific computing, and much more. If you’re in the market for a new PC, then it might be a while before you can buy one with DDR5 RAM installed — but it might also be worth waiting for.

Mark Coppock

Author Mark Coppock

A technology and aspiring science fiction writer from just outside Los Angeles, CA.

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Doug Ledford says:

    Slight technical nit: Memory speeds are in MegaHertz, or cycles per second. They are *not* in Mbs or MBs. This is because the overall memory throughput capacity depends on the bus width to the memory *times* the number of cycles per second. Standard PC RAM is 64bits or 8 bytes wide on a per memory channel basis. High end graphics cards use much wider memory busses, such as 256 or 384 bits. And in PCs, if you have a modern processor, you have between 2 and 8 memory channels that operate independently, so it is effectively between 128 and 512 bits wide. All of these memory bus width issues effect the final memory bandwidth in Mbs and MBs, which is why the DRAM itself is not rated in those terms.

  • Igor says:

    Small correction. DDR4 does have 32GB modules. SoDIMM format. In fact, I have 4 of these installed in my 15” Dell workstation laptop

    • Wiko says:

      Ddr4 dimm does come with 32GB for both sodimm and desktop dimms including ecc ram. My razet blade 15 has 32GB x2 and my desktop has 32GBx8 (256GB).

  • Nicholas Jackson says:

    Mark has no idea what he’s talking about. As Doug pointed out, memory isn’t measured in data transfer speeds, they’re measured in cycles per second. Not going to reiterate everything Doug said, though there’s way more wrong with this article than measuring RAM in megabits per second.

    Mark said “DDR5 will also be available in larger capacities, from 8 gigabit (Gb) modules up to 32Gb.” Sorry, Mark, but a gigabit is one eigth of a gigabyte, or approximately 125 megabytes. That would make an 8 gigabit DIMM a mere one gigabyte, and a 32 gigabit DIMM only four gigabytes.

    In addition, Mark purports that a transfer of 4,800 mbps (megabits per second) can transfer “nine 5 gigabyte Full HD videos per second.” I’m not a mathematician, but that’s okay. 4800 / 8 = 600 megabytes per second. If we have nine 5 gigabyte full HD videos, that’s a grand total of 45 gigabytes, Mark. 45 gigabytes is 45,000 megabytes. You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that’s significantly more than 600 megabytes, meaning there’s no way in this reality or any other reality that you’d transfer nine 5GB full HD videos in one second with a 4800mbps transfer rate.

    Sorry, but this article alone makes me want to avoid Newegg Business blogs altogether.

  • Robert J Filomeo says:

    I still don’t quite understand why the 2 memory standards are so differant. on consoles we are using GDDR5 as system ram which is quad data rate, while on PC almost 12 years later we are just now getting DDR5, but its still double data rate. What is the underlaying issue with why we havent reached QDR yet on PCs?

  • Steve Wint says:

    Actually, the article was correct as originally written except that it confused DATA RATE with frequency. If you look at the JEDEC standards web site (www.jedec.org) they state:

    “DDR5 supports double the bandwidth as compared to its predecessor, DDR4, and is expected to be launched at 4.8 Gbps (50% higher than DDR4’s end of life speed of 3.2 Gbps)”

    The standards group typically states the DATA RATE specs on a “per bit lane” basis, not multiplied by bits per byte or multiplied by the width of the bus. That is a product of the marketing groups; though it also distinguished the more narrow from the wider DDR busses on earlier technologies.

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